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Downtown's deep connections

Last month, we highlighted downtown Spokane’s underground energy-delivery network. Built by Avista over 100 years ago, it’s still one of the country’s most reliable systems. That’s due in part to 10 hard-working Avista cablemen and 4 back office who keep it running.  

Cablemen do a job similar to what Avista linemen do, except they work deep underground in concrete and brick vaults. They maintain breakers and solid-state relays, pull and splice cable and build the infrastructure to provide new services for customers.

“You better like your partner,” says Sam Helms. “Some cable splices take 10 hours to complete. When two people are in a hole, you could end up working shoulder to shoulder for 20 hours at a time.”

Below street level, there’s also the danger of gases building up, like carbon monoxide from vehicle exhaust. Gases are cleared beforehand, but everyone must still wear air monitors at all times. If a problem occurs, EMTs and fire crews cannot enter vaults due to electrical dangers. Avista’s cablemen are trained to handle medical and rescue issues themselves. They also provide help with nearby public emergencies, when necessary.

As 95% of the cable infrastructure is under streets, vehicle traffic is another danger to crews. It takes hours to set up traffic controls. So, Avista has started moving vaults to sidewalks and parking lots whenever the city does street work. One downtown business also let Avista put a vault in its basement. The changes will improve worker safety and mean fewer detours for local drivers.

Another project that helps the public occurred just last year when crews worked extra hard to get power to the new downtown Hoopfest location, says Ryan Bradeen. “It was one tough deadline, but the crews managed it very well.”

Avista cablemen may work below, but they’re always a cut above.

Next month: The Network Attracts New Business

Watch a short video of a crew in action.

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